As the UMG points out, it's possible to pick up a good used motorcycle for very little money. This was especially true a few years ago of the 250cc class when riders suddenly found themselves forced off the road by the new learner laws. Every front garden across the nation seemed to contain a decaying 250 Superdream, waiting to be snapped up by anyone who had passed their test and had a hundred notes burning a hole in their pocket.
Knocking on people's doors. enquiring about what had been their pride and joy. could produce a mixed response. In some cases they were only too glad to have you clear their gardens of the offensive, rusting eyesore. On the other hand, offering someone a £100 for a three year old machine was often seen as a personal insult and a stream of berserk ranting would end in a tirade of threats with vicious dogs pouring from the house like rats after the Pied Piper.
After suffering much of this l eventually tracked down an air cooled, 1979 Yamaha RD250F. The bike had done 12000 miles and apart from a slightly damaged tank it was in good condition and totally original. After a bit of haggling the owner accepted £110, surprising as the RDs were one of the few 250s not to lose all their value after the learner laws were passed. The ride home revealed that both front and rear discs needed stripping but everything else seemed just fine.
Stripping the calipers was a real shit as both bleed nipples sheared off at the merest sniff of a spanner. I was able to get one out myself by hammering the tang of a file into it and then turning the file, but I had to have the other removed by a local engineering firm. Other RD owners have confirmed this as a common problem.
I didn’t give a damn about the dent in the tank, so all I had to do was service the engine. So easy. No valves, no camchains, electronic ignition, just change the oil and fit new plugs. Care is needed for the latter as the alloy is akin to plasticine - a friend managed to strip both the threads in his RD. If you're one.of those peculiar bods that enjoy spending Sunday mornings servicing motorbikes, don‘t bother with the RD as there ain't nothing to do!
First impressions were surprising, the engine was smooth with no vibes until eight grand was on the clock when there was a slight buzzing through the footrests and there was a useful amount of power between three and six grand - i had expected a much more on/off power delivery. The power does come in fiercely at 6000rpm, especially in the lower gears.
The traffic light GP soon becomes excellent fun as it's possible to leave bikes of twice the capacity standing, but a modern Gamma or water-cooled RD soon shows how far two stroke technology has come since the late seventies. Even so, whacking open the throttle in second can have the front wheel off the tarmac and the rear will try to break away. Chasing the redline in all the gears will provide plenty of grin inducing acceleration combined with a wonderful howl from the exhaust. It’s possible to get the ton on the speedo, which equates to a true 95mph.
Like the new water-cooled RDs, the old ones are happiest being hustled down twisty but last B roads with the motor spinning beyond 8000rpm. Ridden hard the Yam really can be exciting; sometimes too exciting, as the frame and suspension can be— come tied up in knots on fast bumpy curves, not as bad as other 250s of the same era, but a long way behind today's current wave of race replica bikes. If the Yam caused many heart stopping moments because the only way to ride it was fast, I never did actually fall off. Spare underwear fits neatly under the seat...
All this fun has to be paid for - a gallon of two star can disappear in under 20 miles when ridden on the limits. Even sane riding only improves it to around 30mpg. The oil tank also empties at an astonishing rate and should be checked daily. Spark plugs are another cause of lost of drinking vouchers, after 2000 miles starting is poor and 500 miles later the engine refuses to run. Rear tyres are needed every 5000 miles, chain and sprockets every 7000 miles. Not the cheapest 250 to run.
Fortunately. all this expense is compensated by a very reliable engine. The only time I had to take a spanner to the engine was to change the reed valves at 23000 miles. This was simple but expensive at £20 a set. The motor thrived on a diet of the most appalling abuse my right wrist could mete out. Friends with four strokes who had extracted the urine when I first bought the bike were forced to eat their words and admit the RD didn‘t melt pistons, snap con-rods or seize up solid. No, it just kept on eating the miles in the most exciting way possible.
In company of my mates, CB400 twin and four mounted, on a trip down the motorway, the RD was able to keep up with them at their 75mph cruising speed. This must have annoyed them as they didn‘t speak to me for the rest of the day. On the way back, the Superdream broke down, so in retribution I dropped two gears and howled off into the distance. i mentioned camchains and valve adjustment to these people when l was in a nasty mood.
If it all sounds an exceptionally pretty picture up till new, loan assure you that the general finish wasn't. By 35000 miles the bike looked an absolute wreck. it appeared that all the money went into the motor and to keep the price down the paint and chrome were applied in the cheapest manner possible - or was farmed out to the Italian residents of Tokyo. It was one of the worst finished bikers ever. The tank paint flaked off at the merest touch, the exhaust system was shot full of holes and the general impression was that something had gone rotten deep inside the Yarn. A used exhaust, front brake caliper and nearly new Konis left me no change from £80 and meant the finish had to be restored with black Hammerite from a distance it looked quite mean; close up it looked just like any other neglected bike.
By 37000 miles the top end started to rattle. so when a friend offered me a ton for it, I accepted. I had become tired of it and had outgrown its performance. For the money, it was great fun, so I won‘t complain.
RD250s are cheap to buy but expensive to run. Go fora stock one, as engine life is drastically reduced by tuning - down to 8000 miles on ton plus bikes. The chassis would also have to be modified to cope with excessive power. By now, they have all been thrashed by at least one owner, so care is needed. A vaguely noisy engine should be avoided unless the bike is very cheap (under £30). But even so, they were very popular so there are some bargains around. I wouldn't pay more than £150 for one but have seen them advertised for over £300.